Arming a store with smart eyes and ears can cascade into a better customer experience and higher retention. Here’s how Steve Madden accomplished it.
A small itch today,
a big problem tomorrow.
How can you solve something that you cannot see? If an organisation is struggling with visibility, it becomes extra hard for it to manage its stores, satisfy its customers, and have healthy inventories.
Steve Madden has always been delighting customers ever since its inception in India. But as its Senior General Manager, Retail Operations, Gaurav Chinwal reflects, when you are running a successful business, you’ve got unique problems to solve. As the product sizes were fast-moving, the company always had issues with stock-outs in the ‘best-sellers’ categories, in some of its stores, while there were other stores that had the product. In order to make the sale successful, the stores had to follow the ‘inter-store transfer’ approach which was very time-consuming.
This could shape into an estimated loss of about six to seven percent of sales because of these lost opportunities. The customer experience and satisfaction were also going down. That’s why the company opted for a technology to fix this issue as a store application.
It chose Fynd to seamlessly integrate its Pan India inventory into a Store application. “Hence, every store now virtually houses the nationwide inventory, so whenever our store faces a stock-out situation in any SKU or for that matter even if the SKU is not allotted to them, they simply check the store where the inventory is available on the app and place the order. The order gets directly shipped from this fulfilling store to the customer’s place,” says Chinwal.
But an added impact was on the aspect of customer experience. Interestingly, the traditional customer mindset, which has been weaned on a physical store experience, cannot evaporate suddenly due to the arrival of omni-channel options. Vishesh Kumar, Business Head, Fynd Store underlines that whatever was working for you before may or may not work for you now. “There is one thing that constantly makes the consumer happy and that is ‘Walking into a physical store’. This experience is hard-wired into people and gives brands an opportunity to leave a lasting impression. There have been massive advancements in the way customers shop but even with so many options available, a lot of people still prefer brick-and-mortar establishments.”
This is because customers love the personalised support they enjoy in physically exploring before the final purchase. However, there is one downside: roughly 10-15% of the sales are lost as items are not available due to stock-out or size issues or the customer does not like the ongoing store offer. Every time this happens, the customer either purchases online or visits the competitor’s store. This is where Fynd steps in. Even though stores are limited by planograms, fixtures, or the square-foot size, an endless aisle allows them to digitally showcase an unlimited number of products, and to do so in a way that is easily navigable for the customers. It ensures a seamless experience and brands don’t end up losing out on customers.
An endless aisle virtually extends the breadth and depth of a store’s inventory beyond what is currently sitting on the shelf. This can lead to a direct increase in customer retention. More and more customers are getting comfortable with this kind of hybrid (offline + online) way of shopping.
Between the shelf and the cart
The beauty and power of any technology lie in the ease of its implementation. The solution, no matter how brilliant, is pointless if it is tricky to apply and integrate with an enterprise’s overall tech map and strategy.
Chinwal shares his experience here. “Fynd has a very seamless platform for everything related to inventory integration, order management systems, catalog listing, logistics, marketing, reconciliations, and more. The Fynd team understood our tech infrastructure and pivoted accordingly – and that too in the very initial stages.”
The game and scenario have changed for enterprises after the Covid crisis. Everything has been upended – from problems to opportunities.
New technologies are designed to solve existing problems while ensuring that the value of offerings is intact and that is exactly what we do.
— Vishesh Kumar, Business Head, Fynd Store
He also picks out some tips and lessons for other enterprises. Apart from the integration, it all comes down to how your team adopts such a novel product. “Because store associates are very hard-wired about selling the old way, it was a bit of a challenge for us to make them believe that Fynd is an integral part of Steve Madden. To ensure that they adapt and win, we made this a people-driven approach. Fynd incentives also helped a lot in motivating employees to use it religiously and for greater impact.”
Whenever our store faces a stock-out situation… they simply check the store where the inventory is available on the app and place the order.
— Gaurav Chinwal, Senior General Manager, Retail Operations, Steve Madden
Roughly 10-15% of the sales are lost as items are not available due to stock-out or size issues or the customer does not like the ongoing store offer.
Is it able to be deployed with good integration, scalability, and less tech debt? Kumar answers that with a confident “yes”. “New technologies are designed to solve existing problems while ensuring that the value of offerings is intact and that is exactly what we do. We have real-time inventory integration with more than 60 POS systems, including all the big names – Logix, Genesis, Microsoft dynamics, Sap. In fact, our existing integration is built in such a way that we can integrate it into any ERP/POS system. The brand can choose from a pre-integrated tech or opt for customization to cater to their POS system.”
He avers that the cost of a viable and scalable integration usually makes brands hesitant to such solutions. “We have taken that into consideration and hence Fynd has no Capex involvement. We don’t charge the brands any upfront amount for the tech integration. Our model is simple and clean, based on a commission model. Till the time we are not generating any additional value for the brand, they don’t have to pay us. This model creates a positive ecosystem of scalability. It also creates an opportunity for us to work very closely with the brands to ensure that the adaptability is fine-tuned for success. We work with stores on multiple fronts to ensure effective integration and successful execution.”
Ask Kumar if specific issues can be solved for an enterprise in a non-vanilla way and he explains, “One of the challenges that an enterprise faces on a regular basis is to understand the customer’s shopping dilemma. Any solution that is trying hard to resolve this has the right idea for success. The trend in shopping changes frequently, retail is one of the most dynamically changing markets on the planet.”
Results and ripples
Chinwal describes Fynd as a very successful ongoing partnership. The outcomes have started manifesting. He observes that stores can track every order inside the application. “Fynd has also built a microsite where stores can get a detailed history of every order along with the estimated delivery timelines. Moreover, stores can also expedite certain deliveries via a simple one-click button inside the OMS. Not just this, we also have customer success managers who are always helping us out to ensure timely delivery for all our customers.”
He illustrates how now the delivery timeline is somewhere around four days. “This is commendable considering the vast geography that we cater to. Some orders come from remote parts of India. The return and refund timelines have also seen a significant improvement, giving all the more confidence to both internal and external customers.”
And he is already looking at new possibilities and challenges. “A prepaid customer can get a refund in as little as five minutes after handing over the shipment to the Fynd delivery partner. Our next challenge now lies in reducing our leakages (returns and cancellations) which should further boost our sales funnel.”
After the pandemic
The game and scenario have changed for enterprises after the Covid crisis. Everything has been upended – from problems to opportunities. These pandemic-specific challenges or triggers for new tech investments have come in the front aisle now.
Chinwal admits that the pandemic surely changed the way we do business. “We had newer and unique challenges to sell during the pandemic. With the help of this technology investment, stores could make real-time digital catalogs, share them with customers, and secure sales. This ensured that our customers get to purchase our latest merchandise from the comfort of their homes. With a variety of payment options, seamless returns, and refunds, one-day delivery in metros, we ensured that the cash till is ringing despite the pandemic.”
The next challenge is to maintain the growth trajectory and take the customer shopping experience to the next level. “We are aiming to further improve on this by making use of some amazing additional features like building microsites for stores, booking appointments, and making use of video calling. We are excited and prepared for what comes ahead. Thanks to Fynd, it will always be an interesting journey.”
An endless aisle virtually extends the breadth and depth of a store’s inventory beyond what’s sitting on the shelf. This can increase customer retention.
Looks like Steve Madden is getting in the front row of technology-driven edge. For a retail player, that row assumes a new meaning now.
By Pratima Harigunani